Gabriela Firea is a probably a better politician than she is mayor of Bucharest.
She is in the media almost every day, never short of a quip or quirky story to tell. She’ll probably be remembered for going on television to talk about a piece of wire found in her intestine: “I don’t rule out a criminal act,” she said.
She’s telegenic and good at sound bites (she was a former TV journalist). She has an army of supporters in parts of the media. A lot of people work at city hall companies.
She is able to read the public mood well, in a populist kind of way. She said Klaus Iohannis wouldn’t make a good president as he didn’t have children, which was silly (ex-President Ion Iliescu from her Social Democratic Party was also childless), as well as being an irrelevant remark and in poor taste. But some liked it.
Former Social Democratic leader Liviu Dragnea, currently serving a 3 ½ year prison sentence for a fake jobs scandal, was said to be terrified of her popularity. That in itself endeared her to some.
But Bucharest does not appear to be a well-run city, even compared to other Romanian cities. It’s polluted, the traffic is among the worst in Europe and there is no subway to the airport. A subway line from the east to west of the capital, should have opened years ago.
There are major problems with hot water supplies and the city hall is in debt; its accounts were blocked this month. These are the things people care about. Of course, Firea can’t be blamed for everything.
Even details such as the population of the capital is unclear. Nobody knows how many people actually live in the city (there are figures but who can vouch for their accuracy?). Basically, Bucharest is a bit of a mess.
Granted, the city has its charms and pretty spots, but you don’t get the impression that much has been achieved by the city hall in the past four years.
The former TV journalist who regularly paints herself as a victim of the current government, to some effect, is running for a second four-year term in September elections.
Her latest political stunt ahead last week was to offer 1,000 euro vouchers (for food and medicine) to recovered coronavirus patients for their plasma. Medics give plasma to seriously ill patients in the hope that the antibodies they have built up will help to clear the virus in others. Plasma is the liquid part of blood.
In Romania, it is illegal to pay for blood as it is across Europe, but the plan was passed 33-5 with seven abstentions_ seven uneasy councilors I imagine who didn’t want to vote.
Firea said she was doing it to save lives and the law needed to be changed.
“The 30,000 who have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 could save those who have difficult forms of the disease,” she said.
Ana Ciceala, of the Save Romanian Union who voted against the proposal, was one of the few to publicly criticize Firea. (Don’t forget we have elections and politicians are cautious).
Ciceala said “this idea for giving money for plasma donations…. proves the fact that for her (Firea) it’s all about money.”
More likely it’s a cynical ploy to ‘buy’ votes and win sympathy and support, which Firea hopes will translate into power. It’s not a bad move, politically, at least on the surface, though who knows if lives will actually be saved.
The Social Democrats were notorious for handing out electoral gifts of oil, sugar and other goodies in the villages until a decade ago, and that mentality hasn’t disappeared I fear.
It’s a transaction mentality. Nothing is done for humane reasons, there is no volunteering, no community spirit. Everything has a price. It’s a post-communist attitude.
Immediately after the announcement about the plasma vouchers, there was speculation that people would deliberately get infected with Covid-19 to benefit from the generous offer.
Last year, Firea was livid about a pediatric cancer hospital which was being built with private funds and sponsorship. She belittled the project using vulgar and scatological language and slammed the non-governmental group behind it.
Firea fears people who don’t have a price, or maybe she simply doesn’t understand them.
But she knows politics and isn’t shy of using populist tactics.
“How can it be an electoral bribe to save thousands of lives?” she asked of the plasma project. “How can it be an unjustified investment in health?” she asked. „Only important people get plasma at the moment, ordinary people don’t get blood plasma and hospital directors and the health ministry’s to blame,” she said.
A stern response came from Romania’s National Institute of Transfusion Hematology which said the Council of Europe promotes free and voluntary transfusions of blood and plasma.
„As a result, giving financial compensation for blood plasma donors …. violates the directive about standards of quality and security” for blood donation.
„Donating blood is and should remain a humanitarian act and donors want to donate blood from compassion and as humanitarian gesture, not for remuneration and benefits,” a statement said.